East Grand: a Tiny School Doing Some Impressive Work
This guest blog post was written by East Grand’s Middle School Teacher, Jill Plummer in collaboration with students and staff.
It would be an understatement to say that when our school, East Grand was recognized by SETDA as one of the five finalists for the 2019 Student Voices Award, our community was proud and excited. Donations poured in from the public to fund our trip. It was pretty amazing that our tiny little towns in Danforth and Weston, Maine could garner so much support from a population of 825 people. Four students, three teachers, and the principal of East Grand School traveled to Washington D.C. for the annual SETDA Leadership Summit
We could not have asked for a better experience for the students. At first they were hesitant about speaking to state representatives and important leaders in the field of education, but when they found their voices, they shared information about how technology and leadership skills are changing outcomes for students in our small corner of the state. Their confidence grew and allowed everyone to see what our staff sees in them.
The students that were asked to go on the trip were chosen based on the leadership they had shown amongst their peers in the project-based learning units and other community involvement activities we implemented during the previous year. When our students presented the information at the poster session about the great work we are doing around the Habits of Mind, 21st-century skills, the integration of technology, and preparation for the workforce, they proved to us that we had chosen well. The students were quite eloquent and many of the attendees at the conference commented on their ability to share their successes. Upon return, the students shared their experiences with their classmates and the staff and the local school board providing additional leadership opportunities.
Nathan, a 7th grader, reflected on his experience presenting: “Not many people get to do what I did in November. I got to go to Washington D.C. and present at a SETDA conference. I presented in front of lots of important people. After this conference I had more confidence. Presenting there showed me that I can talk in front of a lot of people, no problem. So many people complimented me, told me that we are different, and how great it was that we do things for our community.” After this experience, Nathan is much more willing to step out of his comfort zone and try new things.
Emma, a ninth grader, remembers when she spoke in one of the break-out sessions about feeling prepared for the world of work. She was taken aback at the reaction of the adults in the room. Emma reflected: “They were open to our (students’) ideas and they actually took my comments into consideration. Something I said was useful to them and I watched them use it right there.” Kids often don’t feel like they have a voice, but that day, Emma did.
Our students typically just don’t get a chance like this to travel, and share their experience and knowledge with others on a scale such as this. We live in a very rural, remote area of the state and it’s a big deal for some of our students to cross the state line, let alone visit a major metropolitan area with historical and cultural learning opportunities.
Another seventh grade boy, Lucas, realized that being chosen to go was a great privilege. He wanted to represent our school and do it justice. When reflecting on the events of the trip, he said, “In my mind, if I did a good job, I would be able to do more.” He saw that even though he was uncomfortable about being asked to talk to unfamiliar people about our school, next time it would be easier to do. You may access Lucas’ trip summary online.
Besides the experience of presenting, the group also visited several national monuments, the Holocaust Museum, Ford’s Theater, Arlington National Cemetery, and toured the Capitol Building. We were also lucky enough to meet with both of our senators who made our visit extremely memorable with photo opportunities and inspirational words for the students reassuring them that following their dreams is the best way to reach their goals. Every day we were there we returned to the hotel with sore feet and drooping eyelids, but that tired feeling was a good kind of tired.
Probably one of the most poignant thoughts was contributed by Madison, a ninth grade student, when she summed up her reaction to presenting to the conference participants. She said, “No matter where we went, people listened to what we said. They cared even though we were the runners up. I was shocked at how the adults that spoke to us were surprised at all that we are doing in our small school. It made me rethink what we do here. We are doing some good work, and that stuff matters.”
Needless to say, our students will never forget the trip nor the opportunity they had to share their knowledge and skills. All of us at East Grand thank SETDA for this experience. We are very grateful.
To learn more, please visit SETDA’s Student Voices Award page. Nominations for the 2020 Student Voices Award will open in mid-February. SETDA members and partners may nominate schools and districts. If you are interested in being nominated please contact your state’s SETDA team or an Affiliate connected to your state.